A good place to do business, a poor country with 19th century infrastructure or a strange land in the midst of stereotypes. A few humorous reflections on what Poland is like in the eyes of its northern neighbours.
Being less than an hour flight from Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm or Oslo, Poland sometimes seems to be as distant and exotic as remote Asian holiday destinations, with the only difference of having more hostile winters than Thailand. As a matter of fact, one may still hear that Poland is actually somewhere in Russia. Funny as it may seem (at least for Poles!), the opinion can be justified. It is hard to deny that the perception of Poland was shaped and is until today heavily influenced by the post-war division of Europe. For many years, isolated from the rest of the world, Poland was most likely to be portrayed outside through dramatic photos of workers’ protests or grim images of the greyness of communist reality. Strong and true, those photos and films built the vision of a sad and strange world. Although almost 25 years have passed since the fall of the iron curtain, its phantom still blurs or obscures a good view. Since 1989 Poland has had to make up for a huge civilisation gap separating it from the developed countries of the west. The start was painful, as from one day to the next the economy changed from centrally planned to capitalistic. Nevertheless, fast and steady growth and gradually improved investing conditions made Poland not only a valuable market but also an area to establish production or outsource services from. Apart from the economy, the revolution, although slower, changed also infrastructure, which in some areas had to be created almost from a scratch. All those factors result in a growing number of companies from all over Europe establishing branches and relocating departments to Poland.
However profound the changes have been, the recovery is not yet finished. The communism has left its deep mark on the country and people’s mentality. This might be the reason of another strong stereotype about Poland. It will not be openly admitted, but Poland is commonly perceived as Europe’s poor relative. Although we are an EU member, we do well in global numbers (particularly in time of crisis), and we can see how rapidly the country is changing and making up for the lost decades of communism, Poles are the embarrassing member of the European family: loud, moustache bearing, with inappropriate clothes, bad manners and language. As they arrive, they are helpful around the household indeed, but .. they are strange… Ok, it is true: we might not all be shiny-perfect-English-speaking-happy-university-degree-middle-class-people-driving-maximum-5-year-old-cars-on-flawless-surfaces-of-suburbia-motorways, but as a majority, whether carpenters, engineers or executives, the Poles are simply hard working people, doing their best to make a difference. And this seems to be the most visible and recognised quality of Polish people these days. We work hard and we work well, and it is not only about quality, results and professionalism, but primarily about the heart and passion with which we approach the world and other people. As a nation with profound cultural heritage from the Romanticism era, we tend to be a bit emotional, melodramatic or anarchically spontaneous at times, but let it be a bit of a spice of our Slav nature.
There have been many campaigns and ideas to improve the image of Poland and advertise our country. Undoubtedly, the most interesting one was the concept of “creative tension” by Wally Ollins. It was based on a binary nature of Polish character, both creative and rebellious. In my opinion however, none of the campaigns have been as successful as budget airlines’ connections between Polish and European cities. The planes do not only carry Polish welders to shipyards and workshops in the north. They come back with more and more Fins and Swedes coming for business, shopping or a weekend relax. I am absolutely sure that a vast majority of them bring home good memories and will be back soon. So, if you want to see for yourself what Poland is like: don’t panic and come to Poland.
*“Don’t Panic! We’re from Poland!” is a title of a song and an album by a Polish band “Tymon & the Tranzystors